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Parents memorialize Sandy Hook shooting victims ten years later


Today marks 10 years since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. For some former Sandy Hook students, their experience that day sent them down a path of activism. Davis Dunavin of member station WSHU followed the journey of a few young survivors.

DAVIS DUNAVIN, BYLINE: Maggie LaBanca was in third grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, when 20 students and six educators died. Among the victims was her friend and next-door neighbor, 7-year-old Daniel Barden.

MAGGIE LABANCA: So I met him when I was 3. We would always play outside. We always would draw chalk on the driveway and play in our houses. It was that golden childhood that everyone talks about. I mean, I had a best friend that I would just see every day. But now I don't.

DUNAVIN: Daniel Barden's older sister, Natalie, remembers him waiting for the bus with Maggie.

NATALIE BARDEN: They were very, very close. We used to always joke. Like, we'd tease them a little bit, like, Maggie and Daniel, you're going to get married. And they would be so mad. But they were just best friends.

DUNAVIN: Every year, survivors of the shooting faced new reminders of the gun violence epidemic in America. Camille Paradis is another former Sandy Hook student. It took her years to realize she wanted to get involved in activism. She says she had to grow up a little bit.

CAMILLE PARADIS: We were kids. Like, we were little, little kids. We couldn't do anything for ourselves.

DUNAVIN: She says she was inspired by activism from survivors of the 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla.

PARADIS: And I think it made me realize - when all these other teenagers were standing up and being angry, that was the first time I was really, really angry. And that anger pushed me.

DUNAVIN: Camille Paradis and Maggie LaBanca joined the Junior Newtown Action Alliance. It's the high school wing of a group in Newtown that advocates for tougher laws to prevent gun violence. Daniel Barden's older sister, Natalie, was co-chair. Maggie says that's one reason she joined.

LABANCA: And I thought, you know, she lost her brother. And if she's doing all this work, like, I can help. And I felt very tied to the cause because I've always loved the Bardens. And Daniel was my best friend growing up.

DUNAVIN: Natalie Barden was in middle school when her brother died. She says she doesn't know if Maggie would consider her a mentor.

BARDEN: I felt very protective of her 'cause I knew that she was very closely related to the shooting. You know, she was in the school. She had heard things. She lost her best friend. She was very close with our family. And I knew that it was very hard to talk about that kind of thing and to be involved in activism.

DUNAVIN: Every December, the Newtown Action Alliance and other advocacy groups hold a vigil in Washington, D.C., to mark another year since the shooting. Camille was one of those who spoke last year. She stepped up to the podium in a black shirt that read, end gun violence.

PARADIS: At 8 years old, I didn't have the language to describe what happened to me and my classmates. Thank you to everyone in this room for fighting for those who no longer can or haven't grown up enough to be able to. I'm forever grateful.

DUNAVIN: Maggie LaBanca remembered meeting another survivor of a mass shooting from California at that vigil.

LABANCA: You just felt so comfortable with someone that understood you and wasn't saying, oh, I'm sorry. That must have been so terrible. And I wish that I didn't have that connection with her, but it's also very comforting to know that you're not alone in this experience.

DUNAVIN: Right before Maggie and Camille graduated high school this year came the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. A week later, Maggie helped organize a national gun violence protest in Newtown.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Enough is enough. Enough is enough.

DUNAVIN: But she says she didn't want to have to be there.

LABANCA: I don't want to do this. I just want to go to school. And I'd like to be here with my friend, but he's not here anymore. And 25 other people aren't here anymore. And thousands of people aren't here anymore. And there needs to be change. So if that requires me to keep working, then I'll keep doing that whatever way I have to.

DUNAVIN: Ten years after the killings, Maggie and her friend Camille are now college freshmen, and they say they'll keep working.

For NPR News, I'm Davis Dunavin.

SHAPIRO: Davis Dunavin is host of the podcast Still Newtown from WSHU Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Davis Dunavin